Researchers have been given a £1 million grant to investigate nerve mechanisms in fish that could eventually lead to new treatments being developed for humans with spinal cord injuries.

Coordinated by the Centre for Neuroregeneration at the University of Edinburgh, European scientists will use the grant to research tropical zebra fish that have the ability to replace damaged nerve cells. In humans, such an injury causes an irreversible loss of movement.

Zebra fish are also able to repair injured connections and myelin – the sheath that surrounds nerve cells – to enable them to regain full movement within four weeks of suffering the injury.

Scientists are hoping that, at the end of the three-year study, the findings will help inform the development of new treatments for paralysis that can be taken forward into clinical trials for humans.

According to the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), there are 40,000 people in the UK living with spinal cord injuries, which leave victims in need of extensive adaptions to their home, car and workplace, as well as physiotherapy support, to help them live as independently as possible.

Nicky Jackson, a serious injury solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The pain that a spinal injury brings doesn’t stop when the individual leaves hospital. In many cases, the person’s life is changed forever, leaving them in need of constant support from friends, family and specialised carers.

“We hope that the study will be a success, but the truth is that, even if it does lead to clinical trials in the future, it may be years before the findings can be used to help the thousands of people suffering with spinal injuries in the UK.

“What is needed now is an increased impetus from the government to better fund support networks and rehabilitation services for sufferers, so that they can live their lives as fully as possible, while scientists continue to look for treatments.”